If you’re a baby boomer on the political left, chances are that these days you don’t understand much if anything about the political right. And if you’re a boomer on the right, chances are the same about how much you understand about the left. As a Boomer Voice, Ann Rennie of Park City, Utah, tries to break down what she sees in these days of tumult.
Who could have predicted the riots and insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th? Was it conceivable that there would be widespread threats against lawmakers, election officials, and government property? Did we expect heckling of politicians, both Democrat and Republican?
I am afraid I did.
It’s not because I support Trump; far from it. But I do retain a few Facebook ‘friends,’ who are strong Trump supporters and who I keep on as ‘friends’ because they act as a political barometer for me to keep abreast of the latest far-right conspiracies and views.
I started noticing, after the results of November election started trickling in, that my Trump-supporting Facebook ‘friends’ started reinforcing and escalating their views dramatically and dangerously. I knew that something I had first learned about some 45 years ago— when I was a young college psychology student— was starting to take hold. If these ‘friends’ could start exhibiting such extreme behaviors and views, I was pretty sure that this was an indicator of how far right groups felt more generally.
What they were showing were signs of “Cognitive Dissonance.”
This phrase might be unknown to some of you, so I will explain.
Cognitive Dissonance was first coined by Leon Festinger, then a Professor at Stanford. Using his own words:
“Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, and is typically experienced as psychological stress when they participate in an action that goes against one or more of them. According to this theory, when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent.”
This phenomena is what I see with my Facebook Trump-supporting ‘friends.’ Whenever I have challenged them to provide evidence of their election grievances, they become increasingly uncomfortable. Cognitive Dissonance explains it further, again, in Festinger’s own words:
“The discomfort is triggered by the person’s belief clashing with new information perceived, wherein they try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.”
So, when they are challenged, I have found that such people try to justify their initial beliefs even more intensely. They find ever more sources of opinion and disinformation to align with their underlying views. The result? They come over, to me anyway, as increasingly blindsided and crazy.
We see this in those who have surrounded Trump in his bid to overturn the election. Think Rudy Giuliani, Mike Flynn, QAnon, and others. And of course, Trump’s own family.
Then, look at the rioters. Here is a telling example, reported in The Washington Post: a man called “Dryud,’ who follows a prophetess who prophesied that Trump that would continue to be president, couldn’t reconcile this with what happened, so switched to following a different prophet, who “informed” him that “Trump is still our President” and that God will do something miraculous for him before the inauguration.
Cognitive Dissonance is alive and well.
God help us on Inauguration Day.